Obscenity, were there such, would be such that no one, not even at the very core of the self, could escape it.

The secret, were there such, would be such that no one, not even its safekeeper, could betray it.

Assume for a moment the task of imagining a fanlike formation, a round of figures, of situations, unconnected and, if possible, without overt sexual connotation. Then gather these points of reference the way children play cat’s cradle, that you may observe the enigmatic and modern shape of obscenity as it emerges. It is a shape much vaster than the one already familiar to us; it is, quite simply, the prostitution of an illusion, the metaphor in a state of collapse; it double-checks all truths and blackmails all that is visible. Our obscenity is no longer the hidden, filthy mien of that which can be seen, it is the abjection of the visible. Stupidity, foolishness, insanity, violence––these were the obscenities of a bourgeois world committed to the enlightened judgement of criticism. Ours is the obscenity of a systematized universe; our obscenity is the mirror of our technologies, not only the obscenity of sex, but of information, of microbiology, of networks––to the extent where all components vie to break into the constellation of the secret. Our obscenity is no longer palpable, it is transparent; it stretches past limits over the entire breadth of our communicational world. It is a cold obscenity, a bleached obscenity, bereft of lubricity, of sensuality, of inhibition or perversity; it corresponds to the insubstantiality of the real, and to its nullity.

A hyperrealist exhibition at Beaubourg

There were statues here, in other words not sculptures exactly, but mannequins, altogether realistic, flesh-colored, completely naked, in positions neither provocative nor pornographic, without equivocation, utterly banal. It was an instance of a naked body, immediate, meaning nothing and saying nothing, but that was simply there. That very fact provoked the viewer to a kind of stupefaction––one stood there completely fascinated and, so to speak, dumbfounded. People’s reactions were interesting: they were leaning forward trying to see something, pores of skin, pubic hairs, anything, but there was nothing to see. Some people event wanted to touch, to experience the reality of the bodies, but of course these efforts were in vain since everything that could possibly be there had been there to begin with. It wasn’t even an instance of trompe l’oeil. When the eye is “fooled,” one entertains oneself by trying to figure out the means of trickery, and even when trickery is not the point there is always a guessing game of sorts inherent in the esthetic and tactile pleasures that form procures you. Here there was nothing other than the extraordinary technique by which the artist had managed to extinguish all signs of divination. Not even the shadow of an illusion remained beyond the accuracy of those little hairs. There was nothing left to see: that is why people were leaning over, approaching and sniffing this cadaverlike hypersimilitude, spectral in its credulity, hallucination on platitude. They leaned over in order to certify this stupefying phenomenon: an image in which there was nothing to see. The obscenity is there: in the fact that there was nothing to see. It isn’t a sexual obscenity, it is an obscenity of accuracy––the order of the real––itself. The viewer wasn’t leaning forward out of sexual curiosity, but in order to verify skin texture, the texture of the infinitely real. Perhaps this is, quite precisely, the true contemporary sexual act: to verify to the point of vertigo the useless objectivity of things.

The different levels of the atrocity

A DC-10 crashed in the forest of Ermenonville in 1976. Over three hundred and forty people were shredded into some twelve thousand pieces. This in itself has been accomplished in other societies through other, less accidental, bloodthirstier means. Our atrocity, the one that distinguishes us from all others, is the act of gathering the pieces and running them through a computer to establish the identity of the dead. A matter of insurance claims and probates, to be sure, but more than that: obsessive restitution.

This––using the technology of synthesis to piece together the spoils of the death technology––this is what characterizes us. Processing the flayed bodies of Ermenonville is of the same order as reconstructing the mummy of Ramses in a specialized laboratory. Our atrocity is exactly the inverse of that of earlier centuries. It consists of eradicating blood and cruelty with objectivity. A bleached atrocity, programmatic, bereft of blood, like the blank torture of desensorializing cells.

Sentimental cannibalism

Issei Sagawa meets Renée in a mall. They have dinner together. Later, Issei buys a book of poetry and asks Renée, “white and soft-skinned Occidental,” to return with him to record a few poems. On this Thursday, June 11, the young woman sets herself up in front of the tape recorder and begins to read. He “was surprised that she didn’t feel anything.” Muffled by the silencer, the report he fires into the base of her cranium is recorded on the tape. It is followed by the dull thud of her upper torso falling over the open book.